363. Steven Pressfield: Overcoming Resistance to Discover Your Creative Genius

Steven Pressfield

DISCLAIMER: This podcast is presented for educational and exploratory purposes only. Published content is not intended to be used for diagnosing or treating any illness. Those responsible for this show disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information presented by Luke or his guests. Please consult with your healthcare provider before using any products referenced. This podcast may contain paid endorsements for products or services.

Bestselling author, Steven Pressfield, teaches us how to win the fight against resistance and move our creative ideas from conception to completion.

Steven Pressfield is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Last of the Amazons, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign, Killing Rommel, The Profession, The Lion's Gate, The War of Art, Turning Pro, Do the Work, The Warrior Ethos, The Authentic Swing, An American Jew, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, The Knowledge, and The Artist's Journey.

His debut novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was adapted for the screen. A film of the same title was released in 2000, directed by Robert Redford and starring Matt Damon, Will Smith, and Charlize Theron.

His father was in the Navy, and he was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943. Since graduating from Duke University in 1965, he has been a U.S. Marine, an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout, an attendant in a mental hospital, and screenwriter. 

His struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took 17 years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in The War of Art, Turning Pro, The Authentic Swing, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, and The Knowledge.

DISCLAIMER: This podcast is presented for educational and exploratory purposes only. Published content is not intended to be used for diagnosing or treating any illness. Those responsible for this show disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information presented by Luke or his guests. Please consult with your healthcare provider before using any products referenced. This podcast may contain paid endorsements for products or services.

I’ve been battling my demons lately in the process of writing my first book. Naturally, I’ve become obsessed with creatives who are familiar with hitting a wall during the creative process, or better yet, have conquered it. Bestselling author, Steven Pressfield, is one of those people. He’s mastered resistance so much that it’s framed many of his best works, including The War of Art, a book that guides you to get out of your own way. 

You probably have a Steven Pressfield book on your bookshelf (The Legend of Bagger Vance, Last of the Amazons, Gates of Fire, or Tides of War, for example). But did you know it took him 27 years to get his first book published? 

In this episode, we untangle the roots of the diabolical enemy – resistance. You know, that “thing” that pushes you to press the snooze button, so you don’t get s***t done. We explore the subtle ways resistance rears its ugly head, and how we can fight against it and win to produce the work our higher self wants to birth into the world. 

If you’re looking for the keys to unlock the mental cage you’ve locked yourself in, this conversation with a literary legend (20 books and counting!) is sure to get you on the roll again. 

05:04 — “Kill your Darlings” - Breaking Down the Editing Process 

  • How a career in advertising and screenwriting helped shape his concise delivery 
  • Writing drafts and evolving your creative ideas 
  • The negative force stopping you from working 

14:51 — Resistance as the Enemy 

  • Internal resistance, external resistance, unconscious resistance 
  • When resistance masquerades as a good intention
  • Shadow elements of resistance (self-doubt/critical self-talk)
  • Procrastination as the #1 form of resistance 
  • The inner victim voice trying to trip us up

27:16 — Shame as Creative Fuel 

  • Amateur vs pro attitude
  • Failing at the finish line 
  • Resistance as ego

42:10 — Turning Pro 

  • Encountering adversity as a pro
  • Character traits of the pro
  • Getting your life in order
  • Micro decisions for bigger outcomes
  • Humility and dealing with rejection
  • Turning yourself into a business (YOU inc.)

59:03 — The Role of the Muse?

  • The history of the muse 
  • Channeling ideas from another place 
  • How the muse and resistance collide 
  • Pivoting your career while pursuing your art  

More about this episode.

Watch it on YouTube.

[00:00:00] Luke Storey: I'm Luke Storey. For the past 22 years, I've been relentlessly committed to my deepest passion, designing the ultimate lifestyle based on the most powerful principles of spirituality, health, psychology. The Life Stylist podcast is a show dedicated to sharing my discoveries and the experts behind them with you. Steven Pressfield, welcome to the show, man.

[00:00:27] Steven Pressfield: Hey, Luke. Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

[00:00:30] Luke Storey: I'm so excited to have this conversation as we were talking about prior to the beginning of the show. Man, I've been devouring The War of Art. And this is a book that has been on my radar, I mean, for many years. I've heard it talked about so many times, and you can't keep up with all of the great content out there. And then, we set up this interview, I was like, oh, it's that guy, great, now, I really have an opportunity to commit myself to digging into it. And I just have to say, as someone who is in the beginning stages of writing a book, your ability to be concise. I mean, the information's amazing, but the delivery is so concise. I want to ask you first, what is your editing process? How do you condense such a potent message into such a relatively short book?

[00:01:24] Steven Pressfield: Well, it's a great question, Luke. My first job was in advertising. I was an advertising copywriter in New York City. And one of the things you learn in advertising, maybe you know this, is like a 30-second commercial can have no more than 60 words, because the announcer just can't deliver that fast enough. So, again and again, I would write scripts and take them into my boss, whichever boss it was, many bosses.

[00:01:56] And they would say, cut the hell out of this thing, it is way, way too long. And finally, you found that you really could get it down to a very short number of words, but just the practice of again and again, looking at a sentence, and saying, is every word in this sentence necessary? Is this sentence necessary? Could we cut these 12 sentences down to two, and so on and so forth?

[00:02:21] And another thing that was a great lesson for me is that in the movie business, they always want you, I was a screenwriter for about 10 years, and all the pages cost money. So, if you deliver a script that's 120 pages, they're going to tell you, get this down to 90 pages. It just has to, otherwise we can't make the movie. So, again, you sort of go through this process of, what can I ruthlessly cut and get out of here? So, that's kind of how I learned that.

[00:02:56] Luke Storey: That's incredible. I've heard people refer to that process as killing your babies. 

[00:03:03] Steven Pressfield: I think actually, you can keep your babies, but you want to kill all the crap that's right around the side of the babies.

[00:03:09] Luke Storey: Right. That's a good idea. I guess you're removing the dirty diapers and keeping the baby maybe. So, I recently read a book called Bird by Bird by Annie Lamont, and it's about writing. And she has this concept that she explores in there of diving in much in the way that you recommend just diving in and sitting down at whatever your art happens to be, and that you want to write a shitty first draft, and not edit as you go, and just even though you know it sucks, and it's too wordy and verbose, and whatever it is, that you just keep going, get her done, and then later, come back and start refining the edit. Is that a process that you subscribe to or do you kind of self-edit as you go?

[00:03:52] Steven Pressfield: No, I'm completely on board for that process. I mean, for a novel, let's say, I will probably do 15 drafts, and the first five or six are quite different. The story, everything changes quite a bit. And I'm definitely in agreement with Amy Lamont. Like the main thing in a first draft, I have my little mantra for that, is cover the canvas. I just want to get paint on every corner of the canvas, no matter how crappy it is, because it makes you feel so good to have a document that starts on chapter one and ends with the end.

[00:04:34] No matter how lousy it is, at least you can say to yourself, okay, I finished the book. Now, I just have to rewrite, I just have to make it right. Whereas, if you stop along the way, and noodle, and doodle, and work on it, you'll be there forever and you'll never finish, because your own resistance, your own self-sabotage will kick in. So, I'm definitely a believer in start at the beginning, go as fast as you can to the end.

[00:04:57] Luke Storey: Wow, that's incredible, 15 drafts. As I'm working on my book now, yeah, I've done probably three complete chapters, a couple other bits and pieces. I'm just in the process of making a proposal. And as I'm writing, I'm like, yeah, I'll probably have to go through this once and kind of redo it, and take some stuff out. But it's funny when you're working on any creative project, nice to be a musician, it's funny when you end up with the finished piece, right? You tend to forget about all of the stuff that you did cut out and all of the edits that went into it, right?

[00:05:31] Steven Pressfield: Yeah, you do.

[00:05:31] Luke Storey: Because you're just looking at the finished thing. And thinking back to writing songs, some of the first iterations of our favorite pop music songs were oftentimes pretty crappy. I mean, I'm a big fan of bootlegs. I used to collect bootlegs of the Beatles, The Stones, and you'd hear the first rough idea of a sign, be like, oh, my God, this is horrible. And then, it turned into, Hey Jude, or Stairway to Heaven, or Brown Sugar, or whatever it was.

[00:05:57] Steven Pressfield: Yeah. It's amazing when you see something like that. I mean, one of my favorite movies is Paper Moon, if you remember that, with Ryan O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal from, I don't know, about 30 years ago or something, maybe more. But I remember seeing a first draft of that script. I thought the finished script was superb. There wasn't a false note in it. And the first draft was just absolutely horrible and it was nothing even like it. Even the scenes were completely different, so you're absolutely right. Draft one to draft 10 or something, everything changes.

[00:06:26] Luke Storey: Sage advice. Well, you mentioned the word resistance, and this is a term that you coined and is really the central theme of The War of Art. And I just love how you have created this model around not only identifying this resistance, but then, of course, overcoming it. What would be your definition? And we'll dive into the nuances of it, but what would be a broad definition of resistance to kick us off in this conversation? 

[00:06:58] Steven Pressfield: Let's start from a writer's point of view, and then we'll move on to other things. When you sit down in front of this thing here, and there's a blank screen in front of you or a blank piece of paper and a typewriter, you can feel radiating in your face off of that screen a negative force that's trying to keep you from doing your work. And that force will say something like, let's go to the beach, oh, we've got to take our car in for a brake job, you can't drive around with bad brakes, we have to do it right now, right? Or, another thing that that voice will say to you is, Luke, who do you think you are writing this book?

[00:07:40] This thing has been done a thousand times by much better than anything you'll ever do. It's all been said before. Why are you even thinking about this? You're too old, you're too young, you're too fat, you're too skinny, you're a bum, you're a loser, your mother was right about you, you can never do this, those voices of self-sabotage. That's resistance. And any time, it applies, if you join a gym, and suddenly, you find yourself, Jesus, three months have passed, I haven't been to the gym one time. That's resistance. Any time we try to move from a lower level to a higher level, there'll be this force in between trying to stop us, go on a diet, stop drinking, you name it.

[00:08:23] Luke Storey: Okay. Great. So, from your perspective then, this resistance seems to be more counterproductive and even destructive when it's originating internally versus externally. Is there any validation or consideration to the resistance of the world at large that you're trying to convince to receive your gifts?

[00:08:48] Steven Pressfield: Well, that, I feel like, Luke, that's a given. We all know that, right? It's going to be hard to find a publisher, it's going to be hard to get your songs out there on the air, people are going to be competing. That's a given. We all accept that. But the thing about internal resistance is a lot of us, and for me, this was the same way for about seven or eight years while resistance was kicking my ass at the beginning of my career, you don't even know it's there. You just find yourself, oh, you're at the beach.

[00:09:19] Oh, I was going to work today, but now, I'm at that—and you don't even realize what's happened inside your own head. So, the thing that really helped me about giving a name to this for and calling it resistance was that I could say, oh, the reason I'm at the beach today is resistance faked me out and got me to believe it's a siren song that today wasn't the day for me to start working, that I needed to take a rest day, whatever. So, it's that the internal resistance is something we don't believe. We don't think it's there. It fools us.

[00:09:57] Luke Storey: Well, I think there's something really interesting in the insidious nature of resistance, this internally motivated, and that is, thinking about my own experience, oftentimes, it seems to show up disguised as something more virtuous with more moral precedence, right? So, while I can't skip my meditation today, because I mean, that's the most important way to set up my day or I haven't called my mom in forever, I really should—it's not like, oh, I'm going to go eat a bag of potato chips and watch soap operas, it's often something that's very meaningful and an important and intrinsic part of your life. And I think is that not one of the forms of resistance that's not only the most difficult perhaps to identify, but to also overcome? When you're doing something actually positive, but it's not the mission that you agree yourself to complete.

[00:10:54] Steven Pressfield: It's very astute of you to pick that up. In fact, I got to ask you, my next question to you is going to be about what resistance you're feeling. But yeah, resistance, I think of it as an enemy that is incredibly diabolical, and very subtle, very nuanced, that knows everything about you and knows how to play on all of it. And I just was watching Game of Thrones the other night.

[00:11:20] They were talking about the character of Cersei and how she knows how to use legitimate concerns in an illegitimate way to get her way. And that's, as you say, exactly what resistance will do, one of those things. Haven't called your mom in a long time, that's something you want to do, but it's not what you want to do to get your work done. So, yeah, that's very tricky.

[00:11:46] So, I think we, if we're trying to get our work done, have to recognize some of those things, and remember that there's a difference between what's important and what's urgent, or a difference in what's important and what's really important. And what's really important if we have our priorities or work, whatever we're trying to do, and other things just have to be prioritized lower than that. But let me ask you, what forms have you found as you start to write your book that resistance takes with you?

[00:12:18] Luke Storey: Oh, man, they're so numerous. I mean, on the thread that we were just on of some of the most insidious, well-intentioned forms of resistance would be what I indicated, any form of self-care, right? It's like, well, I need to go prepare my supplements or I need to jump in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, or take a sauna, or do an ice bath, meditate, do breathwork, read some spiritual literature, get tapped in, find my center, get in my heart, those types of just self-nourishing practices, which are such a huge part of my life and also my message.

[00:12:55] So, from the internal, it would definitely be that. It's like, well, I should—I got a writing coach, thank God, who keeps me accountable. She's gentle, but still, each week, there's a number of tasks that I'm due to complete. And I'll I think about her, her name is Jeannie, and I think, oh, man, Jeannie she's going to be disappointed on Friday at 4:00 PM, because I didn't do the thing, whatever the thing was, and I thought, well, that's true, Luke, but you really need to take care of yourself.

[00:13:25] You got to keep your nervous system calmed down, you really got to be in the right headspace, then you can write. So, there's all of this sort of props and preparatory measures that go into my creative process, and some of which are valid. I mean, I'm pretty good at getting myself into a flow state, but that flow state could take 10 minutes to activate, or if I'm using this unconscious resistance, it could be a four-hour morning, well, I should probably take the dog for a walk, too, and get some sun in my eyes. 

[00:13:56] I mean, it just goes on, and on, and on. So, internally, that would be—and then some of the ones I'd like to go into are some of the more shadowy elements which you already indicated, it's like, well, someone's already written this book, there's a bunch of books like this, who wants to hear this? You'll never get it done. You're just going to go around and around. And then, even deeper than that, self-doubt of maybe I'm not even that great of a writer.

[00:14:25] Are there enough people that even know who I am to make writing a book worthwhile? This is a good one. A future projection of, well, God, what happens if I write this whole thing, and I complete all the chapters, and at the end, I realize it's going to be a different book, and I got to go back and do it over again, because that might be the biggest one.

[00:14:48] That might be the biggest one, because it's like, man, if I put all this work into this thing, I might extrapolate one chapter when I'm all done and that ends up becoming its own book, and I have to scrap the original idea, so maybe I should just not do it at all. So, those are a few. But on that note, I'd like to talk a little about procrastination, because we've talked about some of the ways, some of them positive, some of them not so much that can cause one to procrastinate in this form of resistance. How does procrastination sit in terms of the hierarchy of ways in which resistance shows up? I mean, is it one of the top ways or is it one of the-

[00:15:29] Steven Pressfield: Yeah, it's number one.

[00:15:30] Luke Storey: It's number one. Okay.

[00:15:31] Steven Pressfield: I'm sure it's number one. And so, from the point of view of you or me was trying to accomplish our work, that's got to be number one in our mind, too, that to resist that impulse above all others. And if it makes you feel any better, I've been doing this for 50 years and it's just as hard today as it ever was.

[00:15:58] Luke Storey: That makes me feel worse.

[00:16:00] Steven Pressfield: Dueling resistance. Well, I'm sorry about that, but it's true. It seems to be a just a phenomenon of life, resistance, self-sabotage. It's just there every day. It never goes away. But procrastination, definitely number one.

[00:16:17] Luke Storey: Okay. And then, what about a disempowered sense of self based in victimhood, like the idea, well, there's this book that I read and I like it, but that person has had an easier life or they're better positioned to do so, on, and on, and on, so because I've had some rough breaks, it's not going to work for me anyway, however that kind of victim mentality that I've had to really work hard to overcome shows up. What role does that play in this?

[00:16:48] Steven Pressfield: This is obviously another sort of classic form of resistance, but it's 100% bullshit, right? That voice that's saying that is just that diabolical voice trying to screw us up. And sort of like in Jewish mysticism, there's kind of a disciplinary code called Mussar, M-U-S-S-A-R. And it's a lot like the code of AA, and the first two steps are identify the sin and stop doing it.

[00:17:30] So, in other words, it sort of completely cuts out that old victimhood concept. If the sin is I'm not doing my work today, the answer is simply do the work. So, in other words, the only way to sort of respond to kind of a disempowered victimhood concept is to sort of dismiss it, that it's just a voice of resistance, it's not our voice, it's self-sabotage, and just dismiss it and do the work anyway. I know that sounds hardcore, but that's simply the way it is.

[00:18:04] Luke Storey: Well, it makes sense. And I think anyone listening might think of some of the greatest works of art and how they have been born out of adversity. I mean, you think about Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I mean, if you want to talk about being victimized and perpetrated upon, and here comes this is life-changing, beautiful work of art that's been so transformative for so many people, and it was really born out of that depth of suffering, right? And of course, so many spiritual teachers, and practices, and treaties have been borne out of suffering as well. 

[00:18:42] Steven Pressfield: In fact, you could make a case, Luke, that the best stuff comes out of suffering, and the more intense the suffering, the better it is. In fact, what you might worry about, really, one might worry about, is not suffering enough so that no terrible childhood or early life ever hurt a writer, no amount of suffering ever hurt them. It's always for the good.

[00:19:12] Luke Storey: What was the grist for the mill if there was any suffering around your creation of The War of Art? Was it years of—I know you spent many years and I'd like to touch on that actually, many years of trying to get published, and wanting to get your work out there, and turn pro, and tons of rejection. Was there more to it than that with your kind of purpose?

[00:19:34] Steven Pressfield: Yeah, there was a lot more to it than that, because I disappointed a lot of people, people that loved me and that I loved. I broke up a marriage that was very important to both of us and caused a lot of pain to a lot of other people, by my being such a bum and a loser in the early stages of trying and being so defeated by this force of resistance that I couldn't even identify. I didn't even know it was there. So, there was a lot of shame for me. I was driven by shame. I still am. And I think that that's actually a positive. I think shame is a very positive thing. But for sure, that was a lot of grist for the mill. And it didn't hurt, it never hurt at all.

[00:20:30] Luke Storey: And what about, you talked about how many great writers or creators are able to use things like a rough childhood and traumatic experiences as fuel then to, I mean, I think about those things in my own life as a way to increase the amount of empathy and connectedness that I feel with other people? Because once one is suffered, I think if you overcome it, you're just naturally inclined to help alleviate the suffering of others. But what about the low self-worth and the self-doubt that comes out of this deeper sense of shame from traumatic experiences that we have in our lives?

[00:21:12] Steven Pressfield: Again, that is valid in and of itself. It's a real thing. We will have that, some of us, but it's also resistance. It's also this diabolical force trying to use that against us. Like you were saying before, Luke, about self-care and positive things that you need, that you actually really need to do, low self-esteem, or shame, or something like that is a real thing that we do have to deal with.

[00:21:45] But there's a difference between that and resistance, using that against us, and us giving into it, because there's really no excuse not to take care of ourselves, not to do our work. It's just a matter of the mental toughness to sit down and do it. So, in other words, one of the things that I'm sure we'll get to this when we're talking today, the difference between an amateur and a pro, right? 

[00:22:13] And an amateur's attitude is, and I say that this is a bad thing, something we do not want to be amateurs, an amateur's attitude towards work is when I feel like it, I'll do it, or if I don't feel like doing it, I won't do it. How could I work today, I just feel so shitty, I have no confidence in myself? It's whatever. A professional's attitude is, they don't care what they feel like. That doesn't even enter the picture.

[00:22:43] We're going to go to the gym, we're going to go to the track, we're going to go to the dojo, whatever it is, we're going to sit down and do our work no matter what we feel like. And I'm sure you know this from your experience and various things, Luke, sometimes, those are the best days, right? Sometimes, when you go to the gym and you feel just absolutely like shit, right? And you find out you had one of the best workouts you ever had. I don't know why that is, but a lot of times, the bad days actually turn out to be the best once you actually get into it and do it.

[00:23:17] Luke Storey: Yeah, that's definitely been the case with me in many instances, where, let's just take writing. I just know I have something to do, or a podcast, or anything that's a chunk of time that needs to be taken out to complete something. And it's not that I would say I'm a pro in the sense that even when I don't feel like it, I always do it, but what's definitely evident is the boost of neurochemicals you get when you know that you've even subconsciously beat resistance and done the thing anyway.

[00:23:50] And perhaps we get even more of a high when we do something when we don't feel like it, then when we wake up like, awesome, I can't wait to dive into my workout today, and then you do it. Maybe you get a little more of a reward from your neurochemistry or however that's generated when you really didn't want to and you did it anyway. There's an added victory element to that, perhaps. Then, what about this idea that you present in the book about how resistance is often most powerful at the end of a project in that final stretch? How does that play out? And why is that so?

[00:24:27] Steven Pressfield: Well, for instance, I'll give you a story from my own life. I quit a job in advertising at a really early age and just tried to write a novel. And I spent about two years working on it. And I got right to the finish line, right to the end, and I blew it up. I choked. I just acted out, blew up my entire life. And I had never really thought about that at the time, but I've seen it repeated over, and over, and over again.

[00:24:56] And I think, again, if we think of resistance as this diabolical enemy that knows what our weaknesses are, when resistance sees that we're this close to finishing it, it kind of ups the ante and really goes after us to try to blow us out of the water. And that's when we kind of panic. I had a friend, a writer, I don't know if this story was in The War of Art or not, but he had this book, this novel that he had written, years and years of work.

[00:25:28] It was, in its case, ready to get sent off to his agent and he just couldn't make himself do it. In other words, it was right at the finish. He was even done. It wasn't like he was three pages from the end. And the sad part of the story is he died. But at the finish line is the time when resistance will really hammer us. There are other very predictable points that resistance will go after.

[00:25:57] One is right at the very beginning and another is in the middle, the act two nightmare or the horrors of act two. But they are very predictable places. And another one for me that I've really had to deal with lately is after we're done and it's time to like promote it, or to produce, get out there in the world, I've had massive resistance against that. And so, in any event, yeah, at the finish line, it's always the hardest.

[00:26:26] Luke Storey: So, it's my understanding or maybe even subjective experience that when you've got a burning desire to put something out into the world, especially, I think, in terms of—I mean, everything's art, right? You can be an entrepreneur and that's your art, but speaking of art that people consume, it seems to come from this—true art seems to come from this deep place, where it's just this burning inside your heart, and you've just got to get it out, and it's generally something that is going to serve other people or help other people in some way, if not entertain or inspire and form them.

[00:27:08] And so, it seems to me that legitimate art is coming from your higher self. That's the impetus for its creation, inception, completion, higher self, meaning who and what we really are beyond the body, the intellect, the ego. It seems that great art comes from that place, right? And that's the true voice of who we really are, going, you have to do this. Like you've been given the sign, you've been given the creative inspiration, go. So, it would lead me to think that when we're talking about resistance, that it's rooted in the ego.

[00:27:42] Steven Pressfield: I would say that exactly. Yeah, I agree with that completely.

[00:27:44] Luke Storey: Okay. So, the interesting thing about that, because I kind of gathered that from your stance on this, the interesting thing is I have spent many years interfacing with my own ego and developing a relationship with it, finding peace with it, putting it in its place, et cetera, I have arrived at this understanding that creation gave us this ego, this sort of alternate personality as a means with which to protect us, to keep us here embodied. And this is getting a little philosophical, so hang in there.

[00:28:17] Steven Pressfield: No, this is good. I love this.

[00:28:19] Luke Storey: So, there's a certain school of thought in spirituality and religion, of course, where ego is bad, it's the enemy, you have to get rid of it. And then, we go around in circles trying to get rid of something that is just part and parcel to making us human. It's the human animal self that seems to be driven by these instinctive drives, and this need for protection and safety, or gain, and resources, sex, food, shelter, all that.

[00:28:43] So, it's so weird that the ego would be fighting against the soul's mission in this way when, in fact, these creative ventures not only serve the soul that the ego is trying to protect, but ultimately the ego itself. So, it's like, why do you think the ego is fighting against us just getting something done when it's going to improve all of our lives, all those different parts of ourselves are going to be served?

[00:29:11] Whereas, in the more destructive things of ego, like let's say you become an alcoholic, because you don't want to feel the feelings and having the experience of who you are, so the ego will get you into all kinds of trouble, and deviant behavior, and things like that, or combative relationships and all that in an effort to protect you. But it's like when it comes to creativity, our soul doesn't need protecting, the ego should just be on board with the project. Why does it fight it?

[00:29:38] Steven Pressfield: I mean, that's a hell of a deep question.

[00:29:40] Luke Storey: I know.

[00:29:41] Steven Pressfield: And I think it's sort of the nature of the human condition in the sense of, are we spiritual beings who are, for the time being, in a physical body? Is that the nature? I mean, I believe that. So, in that case, we've got these two identities. The ego is kind of the identity that tells us, when we walk down this path through the woods, a saber-toothed tiger might jump out of us from the right, we'd better be ready, right?

[00:30:09] So, we can't go without that, but at the same time, if we are spiritual beings, basically, we also have the self, the union capitalist self that's trying to bring us as co-creators with the Divine, et cetera. And so, the two are going to always kind of be, the ego and the self are always going to be in conflict with one another. I think it's sort of the question of, why are we alive? What is life?

[00:30:38] Why did God put us on this planet? And I guess it's the human condition that we have to deal with bouncing from one identity to the other and balancing the two if we can. But in the end, I think we're all going to go back to being the self when we pass beyond this body, at least that's what I believe. I hope. But meanwhile, we've got to pay our taxes, we've got to have a driver's license, and we've got to cross the street on a green.

[00:31:12] Luke Storey: Right. And I know that was a huge question to unpack, but I'm just so curious about it, so I'm just going to spitball here. I wonder if the ego perceives the execution of our projects and work as a threat, because it knows on the other side of that is the possibility of rejection or failure? And that's the thing that's sort of incentivizing it to create this resistance, because it doesn't want the outcome of the vulnerability of having a completed work that then is facing scrutiny, rejection, failure, et cetera. Maybe there's something in there.

[00:31:54] Steven Pressfield: I never would have thought of that before, Luke. Now, what I would say of that is that when the ego feels us going over to the self, it's afraid that it's going to lose control, that it's going to be proved unnecessary, right? If we go all the way over and seat our identity in the self, which is what artists try to do, and also, holy men, and women, and et cetera, then it's almost like, well, the ego is out of a job. And I think that's what—maybe you're right, but I think the ego is really more threatened that it'll be out of a job.

[00:32:31] Luke Storey: Wow. That's very interesting. Yeah. Because when you're in that creative flow and you're in a state of inspiration, there's a direct channel with creator that's inspiring the work. I mean, I think like whenever I do something well, I try to remain humble enough to know it wasn't my idea, right? I mean, even every word that comes out of my mouth right now, I'm not generating that. It's happening, I guess if the channel is open, through the inspiration of the Divine, or God, or whatever it is.

[00:32:59] So, yeah, perhaps there really is something in that that its existence is threatened. And so, it doesn't want that channel of higher creation coming through you, because it thinks it's going to die, right? So, maybe even more so than it trying to keep you alive in the sense of its motivations and instincts around the body and the physical self, but perhaps, it's yes, that positionality that it seeks as the dominant force and motivator so that the true self, the higher self doesn't come in and just subjugate it to the dance corner where it often should live.

[00:33:38] Steven Pressfield: We're guessing, we're speculating, but that might make some sense.

[00:33:43] Luke Storey: Yeah. Oh, man. There are so many fun things here to explore. What about this concept of turning pro that you alluded to? I'd like to delve into that a little bit more, the difference between a pro and an amateur, because I think a lot of people would hear that definition, and say, well, a pro is someone who makes money doing what they're doing and an amateur is someone who's a novice that has a side gig to keep them going. How would you frame that difference?

[00:34:13] Steven Pressfield: If I may put a plug in for a second book of mine called Turning Pro, which sort of was the first follow up to The War of Art. It really gets into this in detail. But once we sort of acknowledge that there is this negative force called resistance, and it can really kick our ass, the next question is, well, how do we overcome it? And what worked for me, I'm not saying it works for anybody else, but was the idea of, as you say, turning pro.

[00:34:44] And what I meant by that was not that we say to ourselves, oh, I'm only now going to work for money and nothing else, but rather, a pro as distinct from an amateur. And an amateur has amateur habits and a pro has professional habits. And an amateur is somebody that, let's say, when an amateur encounters adversity, if we're in something in an amateur way and we encounter adversity, we fold.

[00:35:18] It's like, oh, I don't really feel like it, it's too hard, I'm not going to do it, right? Whereas, when a pro encounters adversity, I'm thinking of like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, somebody like that. When a pro encounters adversity, they just push through it. They recognize it as an aspect of reality and they push through it. And an amateur is kind of a dabbler, is a weekend warrior, you're seeing something as an avocation just for fun until it gets hard, whereas for a pro, they're in it full time. 

[00:35:52] They show up every day. They're really committed. And the great thing about the idea of turning pro in my mind is it doesn't cost any money, you don't have to read a book, you don't have to take a course. It's just a matter of kind of changing your mindset, and saying to yourself, I'm not an amateur, I'm a pro. I remember, I had a friend, a woman, who took up golf at like age 38, something like that.

[00:36:22] And she'd taken it up for about a month and I hadn't seen her or anything, and she invited me to go play golf with her. So, I met her down at this golf course and she was like duded up. She looked like she's just stepped off the LPGA Tour. She had a good club. She had everything of that. And she said to me, and very sure, she said, you know what, I stink, I'm not good at this game, but goddammit, I'm going to get good at it.

[00:36:45] And I decided that I'm not going to be a hacker that's out there with some crappy clubs, and I'm taking lessons, I practice my short game, and I look like a pro, and I think like I'm a pro. And I remember really shaking my head at the time saying, wow, that's a hell of an attitude. But within a year, she was a respectable player, and I really take my hat off to her for that attitude.

[00:37:11] Luke Storey: That's great. Yeah. There are some other character traits that you identify of the pro that I think are worth exploring as well. You talk about how a pro seeks order.

[00:37:22] Steven Pressfield: Yes, definitely. I mean, an amateur, usually, at least in my days as an amateur, my life was utterly chaotic, right? I lived in the back of my truck, et cetera, et cetera. Everything was a mess around me. If I wanted to find anything, I couldn't. And you just can't live like that. You can't work like that and accomplish anything. So, a pro definitely is—a pro is kind of like, one analogies I use, when you turn pro, you become like The Blues Brothers.

[00:37:54] You're on a mission from God. You're not allowed to just be a bum and you've got something you're aiming for. You have an intention, like a hero in a movie, and things have to drop—you have to get rid of certain things in your life, certain detritus, certain distractions, sometimes, people. And part of order is that, getting rid of the stuff you don't need, and what you do need, having it in order.

[00:38:23] A lot of times, I think I'm not a sailor, but I have friends who are sailors, and I know that when you're on a sailboat and you're out in the real ocean, not just pooping around in the harbor, everything's got to be in its place, right? Because when the shit hits the fan and the storm comes, you've got to know where to grab whatever it is that you need. And I think that that's an attitude I really respect and admire. That's a professional attitude. That's order. You have to have it.

[00:38:54] Luke Storey: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I'm thinking about my current situation. I just moved to Texas as I think you know, and we're running out of temporary furnished apartment while we do some work on the house. And because it's not like our space, I find it much more difficult to keep it decluttered. But it's just a lot kind of messier than it would be if I was living in my normal home. I'm pretty tidy. I like things to be in their place and all of that, but there are not places for things, so it's a little cluttered.

[00:39:25] And I've noticed that that actually brings up some resistance, because of what you just described. It's like just knowing there's stuff around that needs to get done or seems to need to get done, and put away, and sort it out, then that sort of rubs energy from the creative process and makes it much more difficult to focus. And that can be true, just a couple of days ago, I went on my desktop, which had been like a year, I haven't cleaned it out, it was just an absolute pig pen. And I went in and I filed every single thing on my desktop into a hierarchy of folders and drop box. And it might seem like a little thing, like big deal, you organize your computer.

[00:39:59] Steven Pressfield: No, it's not a little thing at all.

[00:40:02] Luke Storey: But the amount of creative and mental space that that opened up was incredible. It's just, I opened my computer and there's not a bunch of noise, so it makes it easier to go, okay, what's the thing? Like what's the hardest thing on my docket today? And then, it makes it much easier to go after that hardest, scariest thing first instead of being distracted by a bunch of clutter and noise on the perimeter of my workspace.

[00:40:29] Steven Pressfield: Yeah. I mean, clutter, again, if we think of resistance as this diabolical enemy that's out to use anything against us. Clutter is one of its great allies. The more it can clutter up our minds in our lives, I mean, if you think about social media and the web, that is like clutter with a capital K. And the reason the internet and social media are so popular, I think, is they feed right into our resistance.

[00:40:57] They let us yield to it, and distract us, and take us down rabbit holes, and so on, and so forth. So, you are very smart to declutter things, Luke. And I remember reading a story about Tiger Woods that when he staged, this was back in his heyda, it's probably true now, in a hotel, he makes the bed in the morning. And I think that is a very telling gesture.

[00:41:23] He doesn't just leave it as a mess, like Milky Way wrappers and stuff like that laying in there for the maid to clean up, because he's a pro. His attitude is a thoroughgoing professional, and he figures, it's like they say, nobody ever washes a rental car, but why not? It's an aspect of mental toughness and of self-respect, I think, to do that. Not that I do it, but I think it's a great thing to do.

[00:41:53] Luke Storey: I'm going to be honest, since we're in a temporary, I have not made the bed once any day ever, but there's another piece to that, I think, that's valuable, and that is specifically to making the bed or whatever that first thing in the morning is, it's like the setting up a sort of inertia of success or completion, even if it's just a couple small things.

[00:42:16] I think there is a definite, it's micro, but it is a motivator in making the bed in the morning, and you know like you've accomplished one thing before you even left the bedroom, right? Sort of sets you up for this productive kind of mindset, where in contrast, if one was to open their phone and start getting lost down the rabbit hole of social media, you might be laying there for four hours and not even get out of the bed.

[00:42:42] Steven Pressfield: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:42:44] Luke Storey: So, these microdecisions, I think, are really important and they're nuanced, but over time, I think as we kind of habitually train ourselves to just eliminate some of this, add some of that, you end up with—how many books do you have at this point, by the way?

[00:42:59] Steven Pressfield: That I've written?

[00:43:00] Luke Storey: Yeah. 

[00:43:01] Steven Pressfield: The newest one is number 20.

[00:43:03] Luke Storey: Okay. Well, there you go. So, you're on to something.

[00:43:06] Steven Pressfield: I didn't start until I was 54. I didn't have the first one until I was 54. So, there's a lot of hope for you, Luke.

[00:43:13] Luke Storey: Oh, that's so encouraging.

[00:43:14] Steven Pressfield: You're way ahead of me.

[00:43:16] Luke Storey: That's so encouraging. Well, I'm 50, so maybe mine will be out-

[00:43:19] Steven Pressfield: Really? Wow. You look like you're 34. 

[00:43:21] Luke Storey: Alright.

[00:43:22] Steven Pressfield: God bless you.

[00:43:24] Luke Storey: Clean living. Another thing that I like an attribute of a pro that you talk about is that a pro doesn't show off. Unpack that for us.

[00:43:33] Steven Pressfield: Yeah. I think that's another thing. Now, like I say in the book, every now and then, a pro will do a 360 degree Tomahawk jam just to show that they can do it, but I think, again, it's what you said before that we recognize when we're working in the arts or anything creative that the stuff we do is not coming from us. You didn't write that song, and Elizabeth Gilbert didn't write that book, and I didn't write that book either. It came through us from some other place. So, I think if we show off or let our egos get out of hand, the Goddess is watching and she doesn't like that. She says, I'm the one that gave you that stuff, so stop taking credit for it. And I think a pro recognizes that and doesn't show off.

[00:44:27] Luke Storey: And that would also speak to this idea around not taking our failure or success personally if we're less ego-identified than we know. Like if I succeeded, it wasn't all me, I had help. And if I failed, then, well, it's easier to arrive at that. Well, I guess it wasn't meant to be, I'm going to move on to something else rather than beating yourself over the head and getting so identified with yourself as a failure when all it was, was just an idea that people didn't respond to. Do you have any more to say on that?

[00:45:00] Steven Pressfield: Well, this is a real tough one, because it really goes into your visceral—we all hate to fail. Rejection is a horrible thing. But again, if you can adopt a professional attitude, then you recognize that most things are going to fail. Like there's a classic story about Jed Harris, the Broadway producer, back in the '20s or the '30s, and he had like amazing string of hits. And he was being interviewed by a young reporter. And the reporter said, well, Mr. Harris, how do you explain the failures? And Jed Harris started to laugh. He said, that's not the question.

[00:45:36] Question is, how do you explain the hits? In other words, failure is the norm, right? Rejection is the norm. But it's still very, very hard to deal with it, that's for sure. There's another story that when Cole Porter was writing songs for the movies, one of his songs got rejected for some movie, and one of his friends said, how do you deal with that rejection? And he said, I got a million of them. There's another one coming down the track, and I think there's a lot to be said for that. That's a great kind of attitude, that we'll move on to the next one, and the next one after that, and the next one after that.

[00:46:21] Luke Storey: I love it. That's really good. And then, what about the importance of, You Inc., this idea, I mean, figuratively and legally, because you talked about the changes that took place for you when you incorporated yourself and became your own employee. Part of it, but more just you as a creator of thinking of yourself as a company rather than just some rogue artist on a mission of doom.

[00:46:53] Steven Pressfield: Well, that's another sort of thing of being a profession, of adopting a professional attitude. Like when I first got out to Hollywood, and I learned that most screenwriters incorporate themselves, and they don't write, they don't make a deal as themselves their name, but they make a deal for their corporation, FSO, for services of themselves. And what that does is it puts them at one remove from the arena, and it allows them, and I thought, even if I wasn't literally incorporated, just that mindset was a great mindset, because then I'm not taking it so personally if I'm rejected. 

[00:47:44] I can look at myself as the CEO of a corporation, and I say, well, Pressfield screwed up, he's a bum, I'm firing his ass. But me, the CEO, I'm going to sit down, and think, okay, what did we learn? How can we move on? What's the next step? And that's a professional attitude rather than an amateur attitude. And incorporating oneself, whether you do it literally or not, is a good way to reinforce that attitude.

[00:48:12] Luke Storey: I think that You, Inc. concept also probably helps with accountability, right? Because it's not just you as an individual, going, eh, I feel like screwing off today. There's this inherent sense of responsibility to the corporation, to your employer, which, of course, is also you, but there's some sort of a disciplinary key within that, I think, because you're now expected to perform on that.

[00:48:38] Steven Pressfield: Yeah. It's like you talking about having a writing coach, that is somebody that's the equivalent of the CEO of your corporation, right? And when you want to screw up, you start to think, uh-oh, what is Jeannie going to say about this? She's going to—so yeah, if you can create that coach in your own mind and it's you, that CEO in your own mind, then that helps to be accountable, to make you sit down and do your thing.

[00:49:07] Luke Storey: When you talk about inspiration and we've alluded to that a bit here, where these ideas that exist in the ethers are able to be harnessed and channeled into a work of art or a project, what is The Muse? And that's a term that you used a lot, and I'm starting to kind of understand how you use it, but I think there's something really important to unpack there, because I always thought of a muse as like, it's your girlfriend or like someone that inspires you rather than like The Muse that is this Universal's source of inspiration and creativity.

[00:49:45] Steven Pressfield: Well, in Greek mythology, The Muses were nine sisters, daughters of Zeus and the Mnemosyne, which means memory, and their job was to inspire artists. They were goddesses, right? And each Muse had a different field. Terpsichore was The Muse of Dance. Calliope was The Muse of, I'm not sure what, but there was a different use for every form of art.

[00:50:13] And the way the Greeks saw it, and this is what Elizabeth Gilbert says in her famous TED talk, that when you and I come up with an idea, it's really coming from another dimension of reality, from a higher dimension, and sort of the classic image of The Muse is like Beethoven at the piano, and this sort of hazy figure of a goddess is whispering in his ear, humming a few bars of the Ninth Symphony or whatever. So, I'm definitely a believer in that, and my mind works in an anthropomorphic way. 

[00:50:51] So, when I like to think of a goddess, I like to think of an actual person with a face, but you could think of it as the quantum soup or whatever. It's something coming from somewhere else. And I'm sure it's your experience in music and it's mine in writing that things come from some other place and the artist's skill is—or at least one skill is opening the pipeline to that place, tuning into the cosmic radio station and hearing what's coming for you.

[00:51:28] Luke Storey: One of my favorite examples of that phenomenon is the story of how Keith Richards wrote the riff for Satisfaction.

[00:51:37] Steven Pressfield: Oh, tell me that. I've never that. I can't wait to hear this.

[00:51:40] Luke Storey: I'm a Stones fanatic, so I know all the Stones stories. But they were on tour, and he was in a hotel, and in the middle of the night, dreamt this riff [making sounds] woke up, leaned over, and just mouthed it like that, just hummed it into a tape recorder, went back to sleep, woke up the next day, and was like, oh, what was that thing? Played it, picked up the guitar, and wrote the riff, and that was it.

[00:52:08] Steven Pressfield: Wow. Is that true? Do you think that's really true?

[00:52:10] Luke Storey: I mean, he's always told that story since day one. I mean, every interview that's ever asked him about, that's the official story.

[00:52:17] Steven Pressfield: That absolutely coincides with my experience completely, and that it's coming in a dream, means that that would be The Muse. The Muse to me is that dimension, the unconscious, whatever you want to call it, that we tap into in dreams, and intuitions, and sudden moments of inspiration. So, that absolutely makes great sense. Thanks for telling me that story. It's a great story. I love that riff to.

[00:52:42] Luke Storey: Yeah, me too. Yeah. Well, I mean, it's one of the best. I mean, anyone that is alive today would recognize that if it came on the radio. So, it just goes to show that the highest inspiration, I mean, imagine the contrast of that versus sitting down at your guitar, piano, typewriter, keyboard, whatever, and just having nothing, and just forcing something to come out without having some understanding of that phenomenon, and building your ability to tap into that, and to then, I guess, have the discernment and awareness to be able to recognize like, ah, this is an idea.

[00:53:19] Like I know that one came from The Muse, I'm going to pay attention and I'm going to do something with it. I think there's a bit more value in those moments. Like I had a thought actually the last night after having a phone call with someone, just two thoughts kind of collided, and I thought, oh, that's good. And I have to write it down, because I know that it wasn't me. It was The Muse being the dot connector, like, hey, Luke, have you ever noticed how this thing's related to this thing? And I was like, oh, shit, I got to take note of that, and I actually will write it down.

[00:53:51] So, as we start to refine this antenna, and communicate with The Muse, and kind of build this inner knowing when a really good idea is coming through from the ethers or from the quantum, however you want to state it, then it seems even more important to be mindful of the resistance that then could come up, and say, eh, you don't need to pay attention to that, that's not that great of an idea, or you had this other idea. How does The Muse and resistance collide?

[00:54:24] Steven Pressfield: It's funny. I never even thought about that, Luke, but I would say in my experience, when I hear that riff, that Satisfaction riff, I know it's for real, and nobody's going to convince me otherwise. I think when it does come through and you have something really good, I think you know it, at least I do.

[00:54:48] Luke Storey: And then, I would assume you want to document that in some way, at least a scratch note of it, so you don't lose it.

[00:54:56] Steven Pressfield: And I do. I have my phone handy and I have all that sort of stuff to keep it. But I'm thinking also like sometimes, as a writer, you'll write a page, or two or three pages that are like the equivalent of Keith Richards thing there, and when you look at them the next day, almost always, you recognize it, and you say, this is good, I don't know where this came from, but I'm not throwing this away.

[00:55:24] Luke Storey: What would you say to someone who is at a turning point in life and needs to reinvent themselves? Maybe they're someone who's able to kind of overcome resistance and they're tapped into The Muse, but they're doing something creatively or professionally that's just not feeding their heart and they want to make a massive pivot. What's a piece of advice you might offer someone in that position?

[00:55:46] Steven Pressfield: Well, I would hate to say, jump off a cliff, even though I did it a bunch of times. The one thing I would say is it is possible not to blow up your life and to continue to pursue your art. There are twenty four hours in a day, and we can always prioritize and carve out two or three hours, or whatever, even one hour. And over the course of a week, and if you get a couple of hours on the weekend, you can get 10 hours a week and that's a lot of hours. But I would certainly say, pursue it and make it a priority, but I would not advise anybody to jump off the cliff, unless you absolutely feel it in your bones and there's no way not to do it.

[00:56:55] Luke Storey: Got it. Thank you for that. And who have been three teachers are teachings that have influenced your life or your work that you might recommend to us?

[00:56:58] Steven Pressfield: Well, this actually goes to what you were just talking about, Keith Richards. One of the things I really believe in is listening to your dreams, listening to your—and particularly in light of resistance. Like right now, I'm working on a new book that is kicking my ass seriously with resistance and the voice is over—I mean, I'm like nine months into it and it's still horrendous, but I have had three or four dreams that have encouraged me, and that basically have said to me, don't let this voice get to you, it's resistance. And so, I'm definitely a believer in paying attention to one's dreams. There's a book I always recommend called Inner Work by Robert Johnson, was a famous union therapist.

[00:57:43] And it's about how to analyze, how to interpret dreams. And he has a very simple system that works. And one of the things I have found for sure is that even nightmares that you will practically wake up screaming from, once you kind of interpret them, they're almost always positive, dreams are always positive, I think. And there's a message in there. So, that's one thing that when I've been at my absolute lowest, that's what has helped me, is the unconscious, The Muse. I believe we have this underground river flowing inside us, and it's a positive river, and any way we could tap into it is always to the good.

[00:58:29] Luke Storey: You got two more for us? This is my favorite part of the show, where I get to put people on the spot.

[00:58:38] Steven Pressfield: I'll tell you a story.

[00:58:39] Luke Storey: Okay.

[00:58:43] Steven Pressfield: I used to work driving trucks in North Carolina in my younger days, and I was kind of lost in space mentally, and living in places I had never lived in before and stuff. And I had a boss named Hugh Reeves, was a dispatcher at this company I worked for, and I kept fucking up. I kept doing things out on the road that required people to rescue me and things like that. And he took me out to lunch one time, and he clearly saw right through me, and he said, Son, he says, I don't know what's going on in your head, I don't know what drama you're living out, and I don't want to know, but this company is a commercial enterprise designed to make money, and you can't fuck around. 

[00:59:36] When I send you out to deliver a load, you've got to deliver that load. You've got to do it. And basically, that was saying turn pro. It didn't sink into me at that time in that phrase, but I definitely got it, that there's a real world and I can't be living my sort of hero's journey in my own mind. I'm in the real world, too, and that was a lesson that that really stuck with me.

[01:00:07] Luke Storey: I love it. Alright, man. Well, I know we're out of time. I'm going to let you go. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Steven, and thank you for your great body of work. I mean, I can only imagine the thousands to millions of people that you've helped get through these blocks. And when you think, it's like when you're on a mission like you are and through all of your other writing, imagine all of that great creativity that's come from The Muse through all of these different souls as a result of just having a framework and a model to use to break through resistance, contact The Muse, and put their thing out. So, thank you for doing that and inspiring me to do so, and probably give you a shoutout in my book when it's done, because it's been really helpful. I think it's something that I'll continue to really keep digesting the teachings. And actually, I was on your site, and I saw a couple of follow-up books, and I wasn't even aware of those.

[01:01:00] Steven Pressfield: Yeah. There are some good ones that will help you. One is called Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit. I will recommend that. But thank you, Luke. Thanks for having me. Thanks for the great questions. I mean, you're really very incisive and very deep, and it's been fun. If you ever want to do it again, I'm happy to do it again.

[01:01:18] Luke Storey: Alright. Sounds good. Hey, tell us what The War of Art minicourse is all about on your site and where people can find other parts of your website offering social media, any of that.

[01:01:28] Steven Pressfield: I'm on Instagram. I'm on the various places out there. My website is just my name, Steven Pressfield, and there is a little mini course that's just an audio, five five-minute thing, sort of a real boiled down version of The War of Art, but I would absolutely recommend, read the book, read the other books that are like it, and they're everywhere.

[01:01:54] Luke Storey: Awesome, man. Thanks so much. Great to get to know you today. I look forward to-

[01:01:58] Steven Pressfield: Thanks a lot, Luke.


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